Leader or Lout?

The Nurturers versus the Nasties: let's get ready to rumble! Scores wrote in to lambaste the tough-guy antics of Thomas Charlton, the zero-tolerance CEO of Tidal Software, who was featured on November's cover. But those of a rougher hew celebrated his style as a return to a time before management had gone soft.

In November you ran an article about a CEO and ex-boxer whose "new" approach involves intimidation to motivate his workforce. His enlightened philosophy: either improve business or scram. I guess I'm doing it all wrong. I respect my employees; I sit down and listen to them regularly -- to all of them, from the part-time warehouse helpers to the top managers. I've tried to foster a calm workplace where people respect each other. I had no idea I was supposed to throw things and drive people to the edge to get them to do what they do for my business already.

Dr. David L. Paulson
Genoa Business Forms Inc.
Sycamore, Ill.

I think that Thomas Charlton's company is a success because all his employees are motivated to perform. He stresses right up front that everyone is required to perform and work extra hours. No one gets a free ride under Charlton, unlike the situation at companies that thrive on favoritism and good ol' boy networks.

But I would caution against being too single-minded in this approach. Remember, boxing isn't brawling. There can be a chess match in the ring that requires patience and adaptation. A good fighter doesn't keep throwing punches wildly when he's not hitting his opponent.

Bernard M. Aguirre
Customer Care Specialist
DigitalWork Inc.

In the short term, driving employees to work 70 hours a week raises productivity. In the long term, it leads to burnout, wrecked marriages, and high turnover. Charlton probably imagines that he's another George Patton. What he doesn't understand is, Patton was in a life-or-death struggle on the battlefield; Charlton is not. Charlton is young; he still has a lot to learn.

Arnold Howard
Communications Manager
Paragon Industries Inc.
Mesquite, Tex.

Editor's note: On November 8, Tidal Software announced that founder Gary Leight was replacing Charlton as CEO. Charlton says he will start another software company.

The Myth of Me Inc.

In November, John Case's " Trading Places" debunked the once-ballyhooed promise of a Free Agent Nation. The dream of independence has a dark side, wrote Case.

I've been successfully self-employed for more than 21 years and didn't see any reflection in Case's article of my motives. Self-employment is about freedom. I don't have to kiss ass, sit through stupid meetings, or play political games. I can shift my professional focus without having to get permission from anyone. I can work whatever schedule I want, charge what I feel like charging, and take off for a walk whenever I want. I get ahead primarily because of the quality of my work and not my hairstyle, my lifestyle, my politics, or my personality. My age and gender are not issues in any way. I have never heard of any job where all those things are true. Give me self-employment or give me death.

Marcia Yudkin
Author and Consultant

I enjoyed "Trading Places," but the " Tale of Two Designers" sidebar on page 80 doesn't make sense. When the employer provides a benefit, the benefit is additional compensation. When self-employed people purchase the same benefit, you can't merely deduct it from what they make -- you are doubling the difference.

Jim Halpin, CPA
Edison, N.J.

John Case replies: Thanks to readers who pointed out that we overstated the financial difference between working as an employee and working on your own. The employee does receive extra compensation like insurance, plus noncash benefits like office space and equipment. The self-employed person does pay for those. But we counted the difference twice and wound up with a $40,000 difference rather than the correct figure of $19,000. That's still a hefty sum, and it still remains that free agents get no vacation pay or bonuses, often can't get unemployment or disability insurance, and must manage their own offices rather than rely on internal support departments. So we stand by our point: it's a tough life.